I have four books that I've published myself. Three are on Amazon as paperbacks and Kindle, and a fourth is only available on Kindle. Despite all sorts of other projects I've worked on, my books represent nearly all of my income. Just ten years ago, before good self-publishing tools became available, this would not have been possible.
Although I don't make a very large income, the ROI of time spent on my books is incredible. I wrote Make Her Chase You in approximately one week six years ago, and it still makes hundreds of dollars per month. At its peak, before I got a crazy one-star rating, it made about $4,000 per month. Superhuman by Habit still hasn't settled into a predictable sales pattern, but it's already sold several thousand copies.
I didn't realize that these numbers were exceptional until Superhuman By Habit started to hit some Amazon bestseller lists. I googled around and found that all of my books have or are on track to sell more than the average publisher-produced book.
I've also been helping a friend work on her book, and the experience has made me realize that I've picked up a lot of knowledge on how to sell a book on Amazon, and that knowledge could be useful to other people. I've already written before on how to write the book, so this is about how to make money on it.
The most important thing to understand about Amazon is that the recommendation engine is all that matters. Your only goal is to get into the recommendation system and keep your place there. That means that you'd prefer to have someone buy a book on Amazon than directly from you, even though they take a cut.
Almost all of your sales will come from Kindle. When I first published my books in 2008 and 2010, sales were nearly all paperback. Then, almost overnight, that ratio switched and paperbacks became almost irrelevant. I didn't even have a paperback of my most recent book for the first couple months.
Kindle books can be sold through KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing. You upload a cover image and a Word file, and a day later you're in Amazon. If you price below $9.99, which you absolutely want to do, you get approximately 70%. Considering how many sales Amazon will bring you, that's a crazy good deal. Don't tell them, but I'd probably still do it if the percentage was flipped.
As far as I can tell, getting into the Amazon recommendation engine requires two things: a large amount of sales in a short amount of time, and very good ratings. Two hundred sales in the first few days with an average rating of 4 stars or higher should be good.
If you don't already have an audience, your goal should be to build one before your book. Being as bad at marketing as I am, I stumbled upon my audience completely by accident (and I'm eternally grateful for all of you). Plenty of people who are better than I am at these things have figured out how to build audiences.
This is the key, though. I wouldn't go through the hassle of writing a book unless I had an audience that would jump start my entry into the recommendations. You could maybe hack this by convincing someone with a big audience to endorse your book, or by paying people to buy your book so that it would be free for them.
To get good ratings, your book has to actually be good. You can probably convince fans to write inaccurately positive reviews, but as soon as you get into the recommendation engine, real people will be reading it. My sales for Make Her Chase You tanked when one guy wrote a terrible review because he thought I was rich and was wooing girls with money.
My hunch is that content matters a lot more than writing quality. I wrote The Tiniest Mansion on a single transcontinental flight, and it has made good money. The information within is extremely valuable for RV buyers, but the book is poorly edited and written very simply. Write as well as you can, but don't be intimidated if you're not an amazing writer. It's the content that matters.
Price your book at $5 or less. I'd do $2.99 if I was concerned I might not have enough of a following to get momentum. A priced my recent one at $4.99 which worked well, but I have no idea how it would have done at $2.99 for comparison.
You should also enroll in every program Amazon has, with the possible exception of Matchbook. Matchbook gives people discounted or free ebooks if they buy the paperback. I give the ebook free if you buy the paperback, but it doesn't appear to have helped sales. I just do it because it seems fair.
KOLL/KU is a program that allows some Amazon customers to read your book for free. In return, Amazon pays you some amount of money, around $1.70 per book. I have no idea if I'm losing sales because I'm in this, but I get about 25 per day, which makes me a decent amount of money.
You should also make sure your book is available in all countries offered. A full 35% of my income comes from outside the US, which surprised me.
Writing a book (or two, or three...) is a great way to make money from the following you've built. It benefits everyone, doesn't antagonize readers, and continues to bring you money for a very long time. It can also build your readership by earning you new fans, setting you up even better for your next book. If you don't have a following, I think it's unlikely that your book is going to do well, so either figure out how to get a bunch of people to buy it, or start building a following today.
Picture is an illuminated bible in Vienna.
I closed on my place in Vegas! It needs tons of work, but I'm hoping to make it out there in February, if not this month, and get started.
Also-- a wild shot in the dark: does anyone know how I can get comped UFC tickets? Seems like a lot of people in Vegas get free tickets...
Terrific post! As someone who helps people through financial difficulties, I love the fact that you can create and market content online for extra income. I'm sure that most people in the world have no idea how to do that.
A self published book with 5 star reviews of Advance Review Copies (printing ran me broke) went nowhere ten years ago. Amazon and Create Space made it alive today! Mary@ bsdetecting.com/blog
Great post, thanks! What do you think about self-publishing with Amazon for free? Would that help me get more readers and more good reviews, or not?
I wrote two cookbooks and everyone has been asking about them. I've sold them myself out of my trunk so to speak. Can you help me do what you've done and become a succes.s
Read your post with interest. I'll start with the one star review which just seemed to be a bit personal and troll-like which is sad for all concerned. I think he was too stuck with the idea of staying as an average guy to learn much.
As a self-publisher it's harder to get a pile of over the top positive reviews that can minimise the odd negative review. It's amazing how these postive reviews appear instantly a book is out for some publishers.
Negative reviews are good in that if everyone liked it then it would be dull and uncontentious. You could always publish a new edition and start the ratings all over again...
My own experience of publishing via Kindle has been a little different to date. The production process is fun and costs nothing; editing is a pain, you either have to take the risk of doing it yourself or shell out a little for proof reading or a lot for a full edit (fine if you've got the cash); and without an audiance in place sales will be slow.
One great thing with Kindle is that you can always update the book whenever you want. New cover, new content, new blurb.
Join one of the local seat filler companies...showtickets, seat filler, etc. for a small annual fee, you get a ton of ticket offers. There's no guarantee that UFC will be one of those events, as it all really depends on sales, but at least you get great offers on most of the shows in town.
I just read an article about a guy who accidentally followed your formula, and his book hit the amazon charts and then the nyt charts and now it's a movie with matt damon. he had fans on a website, and somebody said he should put his story on kindle, which he did for $1,and it took off because he already had a fan base.
Step 1. Write Book
Step 2. ???
Step 3. Profit
I was a pretty good reader as a kid. My mom recounts me sitting in the corner reading in pre-school instead of doing whatever other pre-schoolers did. In Kindergarten, I was praised for reading more books than any other kid. Throughout the elementary school summers, I dominated the summer reading programs in all the neighboring cities.
Eventually, I started to realize that all of these books are the same. Sometime when I was 10, I started to realize every book seemed to be about some derpy kid who eventually overcame his fears and saved the world, or at least his friend group.
I had the intellectual ability to read YA and adult books at the time, but not the emotional maturity. So, I hit a standstill.
Time passes on, I get into Classics (aka: any title whose name being uttered made me sound smart). I got a Kindle and subsequently got into Indie trash, at one point reading one book per day. Then the Kindle broke and I had no clue what to do.
I went through a massive overhaul on how I thought about reading, which leads us to how I read today.